I’m going to be out of the office for a few days next month and wanted to put a notice in the Google calendar at work for everyone to see. However, when I went to post it, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. So I tried my personal calendar. When that didn’t work, I went to Google for help. Their virtual helper led me in a circuitous route back to the beginning. I decided to take matters into my own hands and outsmart the system by feeling my way through it. I got tossed out quicker than you can spell Sergey Brin.
Finally, I sought out that oracle of all knowledge: YouTube. I felt certain I would find the answer there. There was only one problem. Just about every time I go to YouTube for technical issues, I get a five-year-old instructional video posted by an engineer with an impenetrable accent. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against accents, even impenetrable ones, but after a half hour I still hadn’t found what I was looking for and had gone through a slew of Bee Gees reaction videos.
I admit that the fault lies not in the stars but in me, especially since people have shown me repeatedly how to access the calendar. I either can’t remember or don’t want to remember. As one of my daughters pointed out recently regarding cooking, you can’t be good at something if you don’t like what you’re doing. I’m not sure that applies here, though. I’m not denying it, you understand. I just figure there’s a simpler answer.
In one of my jobs right out of college, I worked in the communications department of a professional membership association. One day I needed to make copies for my boss, but the Xerox machine was out of paper. A coworker led me to the supply room and handed me a ream of paper. Then she stood there practically aghast as I attempted to open the machine and add the paper. She had to do it for me. I’m sure she sat at her desk afterward, shaking her head and weeping for the future, but, really, what do you expect from a guy who took apart a carburetor in high school auto shop but couldn’t for the life of him put it back together? I should have explained to her that I was used to higher order thinking (see “But Can You Type?”).
Over the years I have fumbled the ball one way or another with employee benefits, company publications, domestic and international trips, conferences, retreats, language translation, business presentations, sales calls (see Regulation 60), and silk screen printing. Yes, silk screen printing (I pressed too hard and tore the silk). You could argue that I developed foundational skills while failing at all these activities, and that would be true. I am much better now than I used to be at speaking, teaching, writing, and strategic planning. But this has not come easily and there have been casualties along the way, direct and indirect. Some permanent.
I’ve learned that there’s something to be said for longevity and perseverance. If you stick things out long enough, you can overcome failure and even outlive the people who made life difficult. I have done both, although I don’t exactly count living longer than others as a victory. Maybe it is by default. The real value of perseverance is the realization that everyone fails at something–most things–and that the only way to survive and heal your soul is to stop judging others when they fumble the ball.
Now, decades after the Xerox incident and others like it, I have become a kind of elder statesman in the workplace, offering institutional insights and humor. Turns out they’re both helpful for younger people learning how to get along in the world. I teach them that and they manage the Google calendar. They’re focused on doing things the right way and gaining approval. I wouldn’t say I’m not interested in those things, but I don’t feel the need to prove myself anymore. I just want to fumble less while getting to the fourth quarter.
Image credits: “Fumble” by R.A. Killmer, October 16, 2015 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) and the autobiographical Nine Lives here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”